Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story
By Sibel Edmonds
Alexandria, Virginia: Published by Sibel Edmonds (2012)
342 pages, $21.95
A string of suspicious events and encounters lead FBI translator Sibel Edmonds to the center of a conspiratorial net of cover-ups and possible espionage, as she attempts to unravel the truth behind buried sensitive case files that could shed light and incriminate high-profile individuals in connection with the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
Her struggle takes her to the halls of Congress, U.S. courtrooms, and, finally, the National Whistleblowers Coalition she helped found.
When Edmonds, a Turkish-speaking U.S. citizen, is hired by the FBI as a translator, she is eager to serve her adopted country in the wake of the terrorist attacks. But she soon finds out that the FBI’s translation department is anything but transparent, and accountability and oversight are sorely lacking. Files go missing. Translations are sabotaged, putting lives—the lives of FBI agents—in danger. Her immediate boss seems more and more unprincipled and crooked with every passing encounter. An atmosphere of fear and hopelessness prevents others from speaking out.
Edmonds, however, is determined to fight, even though it may cost her the job, and her and her family’s safety.
Yes, this is a memoir. We feel her frustration and puzzlement as she is discouraged, sabotaged, and even threatened during her search for answers. When a new co-worker stops by her house unannounced, Edmonds is convinced it is an attempt to recruit her and her husband into the Turkish lobby. She takes note. She begins to meticulously chronicle her encounters, meetings, and the brow-raising conduct of her bosses and colleagues.
Almost immediately after she begins her employment, Edmonds is put off by the words of her immediate supervisor, Mike Feghali. “For years and years the bureau, all these agents, treated us, the translators, as second-class citizens… Now, thanks to the 9/11 terrorist attack, all that has changed; the terrorists and what they did put us translators on the map… That’s why I say sometimes good things come out of bad things. Some may consider what happened on 9/11 terrible, but we, the translators, see it as a cause to celebrate. Look at these date cookies my wife baked yesterday: see, we are still celebrating the attack; this is our customary celebration cookie. Have some,” Feghali tells her one day. “I was sick to my stomach,” writes Edmonds.
When an FBI field agent sends in a taped conversation between a “target” and someone from a border region of Pakistan and Iran, Edmonds is horrified to discover that the original three-sentence-long translation failed to mention that the conversation revolved around building blueprints of skyscrapers that would be hand-delivered to the “target.” “I believed the agent’s hunch was right on target. September eleven attacks and skyscrapers; blueprints and building composites of skyscrapers hand delivered to Iran; the date preceding the attacks by approximately two months,” writes Edmonds. “I pushed the Start button and went over it. Bingo! First, the target and recipient congratulated themselves for this precious Eid. (Eid is a religious holiday in the Muslim world.) I knew all the dates for Eid that year: there were no religious holidays in September. These congratulations were given one day after the 9/11 attacks. Were they celebrating a successful operation?”
Edmonds took the information to Feghali, and began the tedious work of transcribing and translating the entire conversation. To her shock, three days later, Feghali sent the tapes back to the field agent, with a note stating that there were no discrepancies in the original translation. “How would you like it if the shoe was on the other foot? How would you like some translator coming after you, checking what you produced, and questioning its accuracy?” said Feghali. “You wouldn’t have appreciated that kind of backstabbing, Sibel, right?” he added. This was but one of many other such encounters and cover ups. The bureaucratic hierarchy had her hands tied. Edmonds’ persistence was turning her into an enemy in the eyes of her supervisors. She tried to bypass them, but to no avail. Finally, her employment was terminated.
Soon she opened a new chapter in her struggle. She was determined to expose what she witnessed and experienced. And through ‘Classified Woman,’ step by step Edmonds takes us on her roller-coaster journey, from her days as a translator to her battles in the courts and before Congress. At every turn doors close in her face, but adversity never deters her. Her story made headlines in the U.S., as well as in Turkey, where she was accused of being a U.S. spy, an enemy of the state, and even an agent working for the Armenians. Her true struggle, however, was within U.S. government bodies. When Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the State Secrets Privilege act against her, she became the most gagged woman in U.S. history—unable to speak about what she had seen, and even who she was. She finally joined forces with the ACLU, and eventually helped form the National Whistleblowers Coalition. A “classified woman,” Edmonds remains undeterred—even her memoir is an act of defiance.